Today's post is by contributor Susanne Ciancio, LPC, Licensed Professional Christian Counselor.
Dealing with Angry Teens - Part 3
In May, we discussed the difficulties of dealing with angry teens, Part 1. The key point was to distinguish between when someone is expressing anger—which is normal and needs a healthy, boundaried outlet—and disrespect—which is using our anger against people with disparaging, condescending, mean comments. We focused on changing the behavioral dynamic in the family between parents and teens and the importance of role modeling and owning our own anger before we can help our teenagers (or anyone else for that matter) with theirs. We also talked about how our teens need to learn to express their anger in appropriate ways. We ended with the question: Should we permit anger at all?
In June, Part 2 of Dealing With Angry Teens, we discussed how and why we should permit our teens to express their anger with us and how to do it in a respectful way.
We won't solve all the problems between our teens and us, because it can be such a difficult developmental phase. However, don't underestimate the incredible gift we give our kids when we role model respect, take time to genuinely, purposefully listen to them, and demonstrate that we are willing to let them influence us. Dr. Stephen R. Covey says that when you permit someone to influence you, they will in turn permit you to influence them.
We lose influence with our kids when our conversations are characterized by anger and disrespect. When we hold on to and build the connection with our kids, we maintain influence with them.
There is a huge payoff in the end: a high-quality connection with our kids when they're older.
Anger Can Be a Barometer
Anger isn't always a completely negative emotion. It is a barometer for how a person is doing in any given relationship. There's a strategy I use in marriage counseling called, "Couples Dialogue." This is an exercise that focuses on the skills of listening, reflecting, validating, and empathizing to improve couples' ability to communicate deeply and effectively.
“Couples Dialogue” can work with anyone we have a relationship with.
When my son was a teenager and he'd complain about teachers or people in authority, I would just state back to him what he was saying. I wouldn't evaluate his feelings or statements; I would just restate them. When he was done I would validate and empathize. "I can see how that would be very frustrating. No one likes to be talked down to." It was amazing how that would change his perspective. Kids expect us to tell them what to do, how to feel, act, etc. By validating his feelings and empathizing with him, somehow my son could get a hold of himself. Then, if I suggested later that he might want to apologize or do whatever was necessary to resolve the issue, he was amenable to that. The message is not, "Poor you," or "How could anyone treat you that way?" That would be agreeing with a victim mentality and possibly adding to their entitlement. Instead, the message is, "I'm not backed off by your anger. I can stay connected to you and be a resource to you in these difficult and uncomfortable feelings."
Who’s In Charge Here?
We are the only adult in any conversation with our teens. We are responsible to change the dynamic, not them. If we get angry and start to fight back, we have given away our power. As we’ve already discussed, once the parent is out of control, chaos results. Remember, when you take time to listen to anyone, you gain influence in the relationship.
Something transfers from parent to child when the parents holds on to themselves and is not shaken by the emotional instability of the teenager.
If you’re having trouble maintaining control, you may want to join a parenting group or talk to a professional. It may only take a few counseling sessions to be able to switch up the dynamic between you and your teens. Sometimes it just requires a new perspective and some adult ego support and validation to turn things around in a healthier direction.
A Word About Rage
The suggestions I made above do not really apply if your teenager is raging, becoming violent, or acting out in any way physically. When that happens, there is a much deeper problem going on that will require professional help. Seek a counselor first for yourself to get help evaluating what the rage may be a symptom of, i.e., clinical depression, drug use, trauma, etc. Rage and violence are never normal and once these behaviors become habits, they become very tough habits to break.
These Are The Good Old Days
Happy parenting! These are the good old days…the next step for your teens is to leave home to go to school or get some training. The teenage phase, as difficult as it is, will not last forever. Take care of yourself during this stage. Get some support and don't participate in important conversations when you're hungry, angry, lonely or tired (H.A.L.T.). I promise you, you will make it through this stage with a little help from your friends, possibly a professional counselor, and a lot of prayer.
Dr. William Lee Carter's classic book,The Angry Teenager
The Anger Workbook for Teensby Raychelle C. Lohmann is a great tool for teenagers who are willing to look at their own anger. It is chock full of techniques for anger management, coping strategies for frustration, self-control, and much more.
I suggest the first book because most likely you're the one who is concerned about your teen’s anger. Don't buy the workbook unless you have a willing teenager motivated to work on their anger.
Comments welcome here.
Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website.
EDITORS NOTE: While Susanne can’t answer specific counseling-related questions, she welcomes your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about what kinds of topics you’d like to see addressed here at Circles of Faith. Click here to contact us.
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